Climate change. So hot right now.
You said it.
The globe is warming. Although COVID-19 lockdowns slowed down CO2 emissions for a bit, the World Meteorological Organization says 2016-2020 is set to be the warmest five-year period on record. You may have noticed that cherry blossoms are blooming super early and global sea surface temperatures are on the rise. Not things to celebrate. We humans and our behaviors are to thank. Our daily lives run on fossil fuels (think: driving, using electricity...for everything), which are what emit greenhouse gasses. They trap too much heat in the Earth’s atmosphere, and over time, that’s accelerated climate change. All of this causes natural disasters like severe storms, droughts, heat waves, record flooding, bleached coral reefs, and melted glaciers. It’s science. Do nothing, and huge parts of the planet could become hotter and uninhabitable. If not for yourself, think of the polar bears and sea turtles.
How did we get here?
The phrase “global warming” dates back to the ‘70s. But it’s been more than 100 years since scientists had the idea that burning fossil fuels could lead to a warmer climate. Quick reminder: weather and climate are different. Think of weather as what you see outside on a given day — the thing that influences your daily outfit choice. Whereas climate’s the long-term averages in daily weather in a particular place. Climate change is something the Biden admin is taking seriously with a $2 trillion infrastructure and climate plan. It proposes boosting the number of electric cars on the road with tax incentives and by building 500,000 charging stations. And calls for a 100% national transition to carbon-free electricity by 2035.
How can I help?
Glad you asked. Here are some ways to reduce your carbon footprint. And that’s what will slow global warming's roll…
Travel smarter…As of 2019, the transportation sector was the biggest offender when it came to greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA. That means cars, trucks, ships, planes, and trains were responsible for 29% of America’s CO2 and other emissions, because most of them use fossil fuels. Let’s just say fuel is not Mother Nature’s friend. Where you come in: if you can, pick walking or riding a bike over driving a car. If you can’t, try carpooling. And if you’re in the market for a new car, consider a fuel-efficient one (like a hybrid) or an electric vehicle (window shop here). Traveling by bus or subway is better than taking a car, but unfortunately public transit use has gone way down because of the pandemic. Greta Thunberg will tell you to set sail. Now cruising on a giant ship…not so climate-friendly, at least until hybrid vessels become more popular. If you have to fly (which isn’t so fly for the planet), some recommend offsetting your emissions (hint: donating to charities that plant trees or protect oceans). But that game plan is a controversial one.
Mind your meat intake...If you’re serious about fighting climate change, the facts speak for themselves: according to the EPA, about 10% of America’s greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, which includes livestock. Changing your diet might be one of the most impactful things you can do to fight climate change on an individual level. Food for thought: according to one UK study, the greenhouse emissions from meat-eaters were estimated to be about twice as high as those from vegans. And the average North American eats about six times the recommended amount (which is only about a single serving a week) of red meat. One study estimates the dairy industry is responsible for about 2% of greenhouse gas emissions. Some have proposed taxing dairy and meat to discourage consumption. Thing to know: another effect of climate change is food scarcity, which we explain further here.
Get green at home...Insulate your house (which will also lower your heating bill. Cha ching). Or look into adding solar panels to your roof. Warning: that might get pricey, but tax incentives could help. And cool it with your AC already or and look into programmable thermostats. Swap light bulbs for fuel-efficient ones like LEDs (look for the energy star label on packaging). And use the EPA’s calculator to estimate your household’s carbon footprint. Numbers don’t lie. Next steps: focus on your electricity and water usage. Unplug your appliances and chargers when you’re not using them. Only run full dishwasher and laundry loads (hint: the cold water setting is greenest). And be mindful of what gets recycled (we have a guide for that).
Shop sustainably...And shop less. After all, the three Rs are 'reduce,' then 'reuse' and then ‘recycle.’ Instead of absentmindedly putting products in your cart, consider the source. Look for products made from recycled materials and that you’ll reuse (and not immediately trash), like these, these and these. Only ship something fast if you really need it. Keep an eye out for brands that give back and/or are Certified B Corporations. That means they balance purpose and profit. And if you’re shopping or planning for an event like a wedding, think about renting and recycling.
Vote for the planet…Change takes time. But there’s something that could help the light bulb go off: environmental policy. Stay up to date on the climate change conversation by subscribing to newsletters from NASA, the EPA and the UN (but the list goes on and on). Get involved with green politics at any level, from signing environmental petitions to calling your reps or even running for office. Volunteer to plant trees or create compost piles (search nearby opportunities here). Organize your own cleanup efforts. Vote. Encourage your friends and family to vote. Repeat.
Depending on your budget, resources, and time, some efforts to fight climate change can be easier than others. But each step you take toward green choices, means a small step towards a greener world.
Skimm'd by Carly Mallenbaum, Becky Murray, and Jane Ackermann
Sign up for the Daily Skimm email newsletter.
Delivered to your inbox every morning and prepares you for your day in minutes.
You’ve heard they're good for the environment. But there's a good chance you're tossing things in the wrong bins. We're here to help sort through all that.
Green recognize green.
Trying to understand climate change? You're not alone. Pick up one of these climate change books to get filled in on what's going down with Mother Earth.